This month we’re celebrating FIVE YEARS of Electron Dance!
Here’s a story from 2012 that was never published.
A long, long time ago I wrote a nailbiting Neptune’s Pride (Iron Helmet, 2010) diary that kept readers up all night called The Aspiration. This diary took a serious toll though; my mental health over the month of the game was put through the wringer and I knew I never wanted to play such a game EVER THE HELL AGAIN. I later wondered whether an obsession with Neptune’s Pride diaries was contributing to a problem of survivorship bias.
However, I was press-ganged into a match of Solium Infernum (Cryptic Comet, 2009). It’s a turn-based affair, not something that exists from minute to minute. I was still anxious, though. Solium is about duplicity. About paranoia. But I wanted to repeat the success of The Aspiration, so felt like I should go for it.
But our game stopped after three turns and never got going again. I wrote up a detailed diary for those three turns and I think it’s time to reveal it to the public.
Friday June 8, 2012 // Prologue
Joe Litobarski may be known to Electron Dance readers as LiberalEurope (but more commonly known in 2015 as Uncaring Cosmos), whose crazy scheme for manipulating conflict in Neptune’s Pride resulted in a ramshackle galactic peace pact that almost survived the game. After that game, Joe thought it would be a great idea to try something else. Something just as deliciously devious and painfully paranoid.
Joe invited Kent Sutherland, Todd Page, mwm, Shaun Green and myself to join him in a game of Solium Infernum.
Shit. I said yes.
While I waited for our game to start, I read the fifty-page manual and tried out a game against several AI. Three things happened in this game:
- My brain exploded trying to hold the full scope of the rules in my head
- I was inundated with insults and demands and, thus, panicked
- Uh, I won?
I think that probably says more about the AI than my Solium tactical power. I didn’t achieve much in the game but I did learn that I’m going to spend my entire time biting my nails. Like Armageddon Empires (Cryptic Comet, 2007) before it, a game I’ve written plenty about, Solium is all about scarcity – of resources and ability. Every action is going to count.
Thankfully, this thing is a PBEM game and not real-time like Neptune’s Pride. Still, I’m going to sweat like a pig if the avatar building step is anything to go by. Where am I going to spend my 30 points? On bulking up my attributes? On raising my Infernal Rank? On purchasing perks?
And so, this is Lol.
All of the players are familiar with the flowery alien poetry I wrote for The Aspiration so I have to give Lol a completely different voice. I decide that Lol was once a teenage gamer who was a master at any multiplayer FPS you cared to mention, but he never left the basement and subsisted on a diet of pizza rolls, French fries and Jolt Cola. One day he got too excited when writing a rant on a gaming forum about how poor an experience Dear Esther was compared to the delights of Gears of War and his heart gave out. Will anyone work out that I am the basement gamer?
Even though Lol is now thousands of Hellyears old he still can’t hold a conversation without making an inane joke or calling someone a bitch. This thing, however, wants to rule Hell, and turn the signals of Pandemonium upwards, through the magma sea between the Real and the Underworld, and let them seep into the consoles and televisions. He wants to make Stay Tuned a reality.
Lol was created and I sent him forth, through mail, towards his destination in Hell.
Saturday 16 June, 2012 // Turn 1
So. Turn one, huh? Here we are.
It should be easy. The first few turns are dubbed “slow” because all the demons do is push a few legions around trying to pick up hexes and Places of Power. So that’s what I did, I moved straight for a place of power. But then I looked farther afield and wondered… if that’s really what I should be doing. I was on the verge of submitting the turn. But I went away to think for two days.
Wow, this game didn’t take long to reach the “second-guess yourself” stage.
Here’s an annotated view of the map.
I’ve drawn red over all the hexes which are normally impassible (without the right special legions to negotiate them). I’ve also ringed the Places of Power, which are targets because simply holding them generates more prestige; they are important for healing legions as well. At the end of the game, the person with the most prestige is declared the new ruler of Hell. The Place marked with an orange circle is Pandemonium, which is basically Hell’s parliament: the alternative way to win the game is to take Pandemonium. Hah, good luck executing that one.
So in each turn, there is incredibly little we can do. We have just two order slots and one legion at present. We’re all going to be doing the same – one order will be devoted to moving a legion to claim hexes another will be devoted to collecting tribute. There are four different types of resources – souls, darkness, ichor and hellfire – which are needed for practically everything and the main way to get these resources is to demand tribute from your enthusiastic followers. But you’ll spend most of the game wishing you had more and more of it.
Now we all have objectives. If we complete an objective, we get 30 prestige points at the end of the game. Players Ialdabaoth and Hornwrath have gone for the “greed” objective: this means they are going to try to hog as much resources in their vaults as possible. Good luck with not spending all that lovely currency! Bruteaen and Boozlebub have gone for Wrath: which means kill another player, basically, storm their stronghold. Screwstaples has taken “lust” which means take the Temple of Lust which, unfortunately, is not going to be easy because it’s just next door to Bruteaen.
What about me? Well, I’ve built my avatar for deceit, so my objective is Envy which is basically a reward for being a kleptomaniac.
An extremely important point to be aware of is this: Places of Power and hexes do not work in the same way as other strategy games. If you own half the map, yes, it means you’re more likely to win. But it does not mean you have more resources or guns or bombs. What you have at your disposal has very little correlation to what you own which makes my next decision more difficult.
At first I was worried about Bruteaen having so many Places of Power and land mass available to him. It meant he was more likely to win but not stronger. Then I saw poor old Boozlebub who looked like his options for movement would be limited. In fact, I could cut him off from the rest of the map very easily.
The other thing about Solium Infernum, you see, is that it’s not exactly about fighting and war. You can’t just go punch someone in the face and tussle over land because, well, it’s so much more polite. Boozlebub can’t just take these hexes from me with a powerful legion; he is going to have to engineer a vendetta between us. That could involve an insult or make a demand. I’m sure we’ll get to this later.
So the question is, do I box in Boozlebub instead of grabbing that Place of Power just above? It will limit his expansion and likely lose him the game but have absolutely no impact on how strong he will become. Note also that his goal is Wrath – to wipe out another player and I’m going to be his nearest neighbour, unless he manages to buy some flying bozo at the Infernal Bazaar.
Maybe it offers other possibilities too? A potential bargaining chip later, where I don’t contest a hex if he wants to come out? I don’t know. I move my legion to take one hex. After the next turn, he’ll be locked in.
Joe has put together a wonderful new site to manage our communication better than the game. I just hope Joe resists the temptation to peek inside his site.
It’s pretty clear from the opening announcement that Joe is Ialdabaoth. Bruteaen, he of great open wide plains, responds: “Aye, it would be best for all involved to resolve our current crisis as quickly as can. There is hope yet that the scripts of Malphorian were composed of trickery and falsehoods; harsh times are predicted upon our kind…”
It’s very wordy and long. I follow up with: “love this shit, top words from my bro bertie. i got some cool plans of my own though. want to spam the kids upstairs with hell mcsignals, ha ha, for the lulz you know! right alright all you Call of Duty sheep and truth haters, always and forever, fucking lol yo” (snippet in here taken from a Steam forum).
I then send a few messages to my diabolical brethren.
To bruteaen a missive titled “watch out for that freak yo” where I point out that screwstaples is looking for the Temple of Lust:
hey hey bertie, long time no seeeee! wanna fill you in, right, i think that dude screwloosestaples, his public objective, like – very fucking interesting to you i think, yeah! no need to say thanks no man, dont even think it – fucking lol yo
To hornwrath, my neighbour to the right, a message titled “howz it chiggin’ man”:
yo horny, its been awhiiiiile, thank shit that boring asshol lucy is gone from the throne. anywayz, bertie down below, i mean whaddya thinkin? i mean, i love that bro, man, with his long dickish words and everything, but =serious= he seems he’s going to pwn a whole frikkin park down there. shit, man, no fair, i call foul. hah! like everything is foul here, hah! – fucking lol yo
To screwstaples, “hellloooooooo”
yo yo yo screwy how you doing my man bros4evar amirite
To ialdabaoth, another “hellloooooooo”:
mad props to you alan, u are my fave, totally down with u sorting this shit out an all. just 1 word of advice like from bro 2 bro, right? i wuldnt get ahead of myself thiking like “im a princely dude, gonna win this thang no problemo senor, 4 real” coz some of these guys, right, love them all, bertie, horny and everyone – but unless u are squat on that fucking chair i dont think they gonna honor u with respect amirite? fucking lol yo
I don’t send anything to Boozlebub, who I intend to call “boozebrain”, because I hacked his account on the conclave. Joe gave us all the same password. So I logged into Boozlebub’s account and changed the password. Lol did just for lulz.
Tuesday 24 July, 2012 // Turn 2
It’s been awhile because there were some problems getting one of the players’ turns processed.
But I started getting proper diplomatic messages after I had submitted my turn.
Bruteaen tells me to fuck off the Place of Power directly to my south:
Why, I don’t thank you at all. Instead, I deeply appreciate it. If I may, I would like to inform you of my intentions regarding our future borders. I mean to annex the Mouth of Abbadon, then the Temple of Lust. I may be dissuaded from such a course if necessary, of course
There’s not much I can do about this – if he wants to take it, he can. I can only appeal to his long-term nature.
hehehehe well i am sittin here thinkin about cutting out my bro boozebrain, he always in his inebriate winter dude! after lucy up and gone, who do we want in the throne? not a stretch to say not a demon with a few dnd offences on the conclave pinboard, amirite? he drunk so much he looked a frikkin succubus these days, have u seen his foto?
sooo i am happy to take his heat man because fuck knows its hot anyway! but will be at the expense of my fave unholy fountain spot im sure my bro horny is itching to sink his nuts into, up to u if you want to help out a bro. i will remember it because once u pick up all those sunny spots down in ur zone ain’t no one gonna be your friend for some time, know what i mean???? yeah u do!
dudes4ever, fucking lol yo
He comes back indicating that he had absolutely no intention to negotiate despite the tone of his original message:
No, no. When I said that I was looking to capture the Mouth and Lust, I meant it. I don’t much intend to expand beyond that. You are welcome to, if you care, take the Temple of the Damned under your care, which would have the added benefit of a border with Pandemonium. You’ll have to race Screwstaple though, and sacrifice the Unholy Fountain, so it’s your call. Otherwise, the Bronze Pyramid is too distant to control properly, and Erebus is only a possible acquisition.
Hey, did you notice that special ability your guys have? It adds 1-4 damage every infernal round, meaning you have the best army by far. However, Boozlebub has its opposite, Black Lightning, which adds 1-4 damage to ranged. With luck, he could destroy your men before they laid upon him a finger. I’d say the chance of that is nearly 1 in 3 (accounting for combat bonus). Plus, since he’s down, he’ll likely prioritize beefing his army, or using rituals to attack. Keep this in mind, and good luck.”
Thank you for all those details, but they are a bit too helpful. Like – look over there, you can attack that dude! And you’re pretty powerful I think! Nice muscles. Thank you but I’m not falling for this again like when I was The Aspiration. If I find out who Kent is, I know not to trust a god damn thing that comes out of his mouth. Kent won Neptune’s Pride through playing his opponents off each other, and being “nice”.
From Screwstaples, who is not really on my immediate radar, but he responds to my point about how Bruteaen has all that space to play with. And the Temple of Lust.
bros4life dawg. How could I forget all of the times you and I have wallowed in the infernal filth pits or warmed our hands over the pleasant heat radiating from the lake of fire?
That Brutey fellow sure does have a nice bit of land. Just a hop and a skip away from three places of power.
yeah and he already thretenin me telling me to lay off some shit, some leader he will be! how u going to get his temple of lust i got no idea dude
Screwstaples comes back:
What did he threaten you about? You’re a good distance away from him. Re: the Temple of Lust, not sure exactly. I know who will be at the top of my threat list though.
I reply again:
not that i want to rat on a bro, but he told me he was totally going for the mouth of abaddon unless i was nice to him. dude greedy somewhat? ha ha, its all good tho right. insult a bro in private is one thing. i wanna see if bertie can man up in public. poor old boozebrain tho, i feel a bit bad as im about to shut his ass out of play… fucking lol yo
Here we go again. Shut his ass out of play. This is not going to look good in a minute.
Ialdabaoth responds too:
My dear Marquis,
You wisdom is sage (even if the manner it comes in is slightly… unorthodox). A title of nobility may be given, but respect is earned. And, as the mortal Niccolò di Bernardo dei Machiavelli (who is, I believe, knocking around these parts somewhere) once wrote: it is better to be feared than loved.
So I worked out that Hornwrath is Todd Page, the guy who organised the Neptune’s Pride game on Electron Dance. He congratulated Joe on creating a great site. As soon as I got the e-mail, I went on to the Conclave site: Hornwrath was logged in. That was pretty much a giveaway for his identity! I am soooo anal.
But the more I think about my move away from the nearby Place of Power, the Unholy Fountain, the more I’m wondering if blocking out Boozlebub is worth it. As the game’s turns have not yet been processed I ask game runner Joe if I can redo it. He doesn’t want to approve but as there’s been a problem with the uploads I have to resubmit the turn anyway… so he leaves this moral choice up to me.
Strangely, I decide to stick to my original decision. Consequences and all that. We can’t undo what we can’t undo, right? I’m not going to play a sad and jaded old demon, but an upbeat force of evil, basically high all of the time.
And I now suspect Bruteaen may be Kent Sutherland as two of us who uploaded turns early have to resubmit again – myself and Kent. Myself and Bruteaen were the first two guys logged onto the site other than Joe. How typical that he gets all the space. That matches the very bloody helpful tone. I SHOULD HAVE KNOWN.
Oh yeah, he is definitely enemy number one.
And here is the interesting lesson of Empire I discovered when writing Survivorship Bias. In Empire, no one is anonymous which means if you’re a backstabby kind of person – that becomes your history, your legacy. Players stop trusting you. Over time, Empire has evolved a playerbase that behaves with honour. Backstabs are now considered extremely poor form.
I probably won’t trust Joe (Ialdabaoth) either. If he mentions anything like a formal pact like he proposed for his Neptune’s Pride game, well, I won’t be signing up.
But anyway, when the first turn is processed it turns out double-bad. I was hoping Hornwrath wouldn’t race me to the Unholy Fountain to the north because I would win the race; somehow he is going for it anyway and as I am not going that way, he is definitely going to win that race now.
Further, I’m not even blocking Boozlebub who seems like he can pass over Lava Flows which is fucking annoying. I checked this in the manual to make sure. He doesn’t have special abilities to do that as far as I’m aware. In fact he is about to block me from the southern section with Bruteaen. Curses!
So I’ve made the sad decision to shoot to the left and try to corral the “Bronze Pyramid”. My guys are actually not that strong enough to take it at this point, so the best I can do is surround it. And I still don’t have the ability to buy a legion, dammit, which means I’m limited to gaining just 2 hexes per turn through my one loyal legion.
Ialdabaoth raises a hello through the in-game interface asking if I’m a potential ally. To be honest, I think the time for alliances is a bit early. I have no plans and no needs. Making this shit up as I go along. So I respond:
it’s my main man, alan! i am totally a potential ally cos all i want is to get on with my master HAHAHA AAA plan right? we got lots of shit down here and i know how we can kick this shit upstairs. whoever is the grand princey throne boy around here, when da dust done clearing, i know he’s gonna listen. we all BFF and all that shit. fucking lol yo.
Not particularly happy with the direction of this now. I seem to have taken a promising start and thrown away my advantages. Ah well, maybe it will all turn around in turn three!
Monday 13 August, 2012 // Turn 3
I spent quite a bit of time “getting in to the game” at the start but now… well, what with the huge delay before we could get started for real, I’m just not into it right now. It’s a distraction from other interesting things. I think a lot about every move and this feels more like work right now; a job to be done. It probably doesn’t help that I screwed my own situation and now forced to watch a woeful opening game play itself out.
Things have gone kinda wrong. I told you I threw away my chance to get an easy Place of Power so I could lock Boozlebub into a small valley except… except that he was able to leave across hexes that I assumed were impassable. And I decided to stride over to the west, see if I could grab a fuckhard Place of Power on the other side of Boozlebub, which would take me across “impassable” hexes as well.
Well, irritatingly, Boozlebub bought a new legion in the Bazaar and it got dumped right next to me. This means that we now have a race. If we both decide to expend our first move taking the hex to the left, the current order of play means Boozlebub will actually take the hex and my order will be blocked out – wasted, in fact. Rather than conceding – or even trying to negotiate which is pointless as every one else has submitted their turn already – I’m going to take a chance.
On my side, you see, is the fact that Boozlebub is also racing against Brutaean/Kent in the southeast towards a Place of Power. To be honest, if they race, Kent will take it. So most likely my order will get blocked out.
To my north-east, it also appears that Hornwrath has decided to skip around the Place of Power I “conceded” with my early moves… possibly in an attempt to lock me in and prevent expansion.
I’m trying to buy a low-power legion in the Bazaar to speed up my expansion; paid a smidgen over the odds for it in case I’m facing someone else in auction. It would be great for something nice to happen to me for a change. You know, something nice in Hell.
But it’s not going so well in Camp Lol.
// the premature end
We probably needed to play much more quickly. It is time that engenders terror. The longer we care about our virtual empires, the more terrifying we find the possibility of failure and the more deeply we feel its associated loss.
I found the systems of the game fascinating but you can see that I’ve screwed up very early because I’ve somehow misunderstood whether legions can cross lava plains or not. I can’t tell you whether this was going to lose the game but it was definitely going to impact me. Being damaged this early by “stupidity” already managed to upset me and ruin my mood; I remember not wanting to play and finding it difficult to get the enthusiasm up to figure out my turn. But I might have discovered that this “drawback” would not have affected me in the long run. Or discovered other wonderfully stupid mistakes to make.
And with that thought, Lol’s story comes to an early end.